MVE TIG Week: Being at the “tip of the spear” of important social issues: Why evaluators should pay attention to the military in understanding and contributing to positive social change? By Stephen Axelrad

Hello, my name is Stephen Axelrad. I am the founder and chair of the Military and Veteran Evaluation (MVE) Topical Interest Group (TIG).  I am excited to kick off MVE TIG Week on AEA365.  I founded this TIG to raise awareness and promote greater use of AEA guiding principles and evaluation theory and methods in military and veteran settings.  I hope this week’s articles will contribute to this aim.  To do this, each will focus on issues of importance to evaluators working in civilian settings that matter in military settings. Mine highlights pressing social issues the military is grappling with and how we might leverage learnings.

Hot Tip:  Tip of the Spear

This is a phrase you hear a lot in the military.  Its origins can be traced to the first Soldiers (frequently infantry) who enter into a warzone.  However, its meaning has broadened to incorporate individual, group, or organization that is the first to adopt an innovative program, practice, policy, strategy, or resource.  Civilian analogs to “tip of the spear” come in the form of change agents, early adopters, or advocates.  Evaluators pay close attention to these entities because they play crucial roles in evaluations as early adopters, sponsors, champions, informants, allies, or even resisters.  In the military, when entities are identified as the “tip of the spear,” they frequently become the focus of senior leaders and influential external stakeholders such as Congress.

Cool Trick:  Thinking of the Military as a Laboratory for Testing Solutions to Social Problems

Sexual misconduct, suicide, cyber bullying, domestic violence, gender equality…these issues are not only headlines on news and social media outlets but also where the military, itself, is acting as the tip of the spear for the US society and developing solutions that could be replicated in the larger US society.  Here are a few examples that have been publicly documented.

Lesson Learned:

Many evaluators outside of the military can be turned off by the formality, bureaucracy, hypermasculinity, and even the warfighting mission of the military.  As an evaluator with zero experience in uniform, I must admit those thoughts crossed my mind.  However, after ten years of working with the military, I can tell you that I have found military leaders to be some of the most receptive audiences to evaluation theories and methods.  In addition, military leaders often appreciate the focus that evaluators place on evidence and their ability to synthesize facts into actionable findings.

If you’re more interested in learning more, I encourage you to read this week’s posts, join our TIG via the AEA web site, and contact me at


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MVE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Military and Veteran’s Issues Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MVE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “MVE TIG Week: Being at the “tip of the spear” of important social issues: Why evaluators should pay attention to the military in understanding and contributing to positive social change? By Stephen Axelrad”

  1. I thank you for the time to explain the commonly heard phrase in military settings “tip of the spear” and how information from military settings coincide with public sectors, working together to form a more united front. I find your post interesting because that is not the side of the military outsiders see or distinguish with military safety and protocol. Oftentimes, businesses clash with military procedures when it comes to sexual harassment allegations and withhold information from both the public and other entities that might be involved in the investigatory processes. One example that comes to mind is the recent sexual harassment situation on Fort Hood, Texas with Vanessa Guillen. Only now is the military being more public with policies and procedures being enforced in order to prevent future acts and provide both security and assurance to the public. I say this, but feel hesitant that it is actually being enforced throughout the U.S., especially in the Navy and Marine sectors where the perceived formality, bureaucracy, hyper-masculinity, and war-fighting missions are even more pronounced. There was also a recently made public situation with the captain on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the question of whether or not what he did was ethically and morally just when it came to his sailors over proper navy protocol.

    All of this is to say that while the evaluations of military and veteran programs are certainly beneficial to all, I am concerned with the actual openness of all military branches and their ability to work with the civilian world.

  2. This was a very interesting read and it made me think about state and federal laws and policies put in place for innovations that target military families and contexts. Are those considered public health statutes or are they altogether separate? Also, does evaluation of Military and Veteran programs include indices of equity and inclusion in their evaluation designs and planning?

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